We had a really nice event on January 16 at the Unitarian Church, as our last issue mentioned. There were about 25 attendees from the church, as well as about 5 of us, and a person from the Outpost doing a cooking demo, and a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) person talking about CSAs as a source of environmentally friendly fresh vegetables. We brought lots of flyers, some of which we left with the church’s environmental committee for their future use, and I spoke for a few minutes about MARV and about different reasons people look at eating more plants and less animal foods, and people seemed really interested and had some good practical questions.
It was nice to start the year with an energizing event, since we need to go into higher gear now as March begins to approach. Besides our usual potluck on March 2, we have two events coming up, pretty much back-to-back: the Great American Meat-Out, probably on March 22, and Dr. Gregor’s talk a week later on March 29. It was decided at the January potluck that we would ask him to talk about Chronic Wasting Disease in deer, which is certainly a current and ongoing issue here in Wisconsin. We might even be able to attract some folks for whom vegetarianism is not the primary focus in life and expose them to a few new ideas – you never know.
Meanwhile, we definitely need to decide exactly what we will do for the Meat-Out, and start lining that up. This will certainly be a topic for discussion at the February potluck. We also need to line up volunteers to help with the event, so start thinking about putting this on your calendar. We also need to discuss whether to continue holding our potlucks at the Friends’ Meeting House; we might want to discuss applying to the Unitarian Church as an alternative, or we might be able to switch to the Shorewood Library, which might cost a whole lot less. Now that the new library is open, Chuck and I took a look, and while it is not big enough for the Pre-Thanksgiving Feast, its kitchen and adjoining meeting room would be great for the potluck if they’ll let us use it. When I asked about this, the head librarian promised to ask the appropriate committee and let me know.
Sunday, Feb. 2, 5:30 PM, regular potluck at the Friends’ Meeting House, 3224 N. Gordon Pl.(from Humboldt Ave. in Riverwest, go east on Auer a few short blocks to the parking lot). Focus is fat-free food.
The potluck after that is at the same time and place on March 2; topic is a sprouting demo.
?Saturday, March 22?, Great American Meat-Out event
Saturday, March 29, 7 PM, talk by vegetarian Doctor Michael Gregor, at the Friends’ Meeting House, 7 PM
The February potluck will be at 5 PM on Feb. 16, hosted by John and Donna Moburg. Call 962-9358 for details and address.
QUOTE OF THE MONTH
"When it comes to the causes of illness, Americans have access to more information that ever before about how nutrition affects their health… But despite endless warnings about fat and cholesterol, North Americans continue to eat no fewer than one million animals per hour, and, collectively, we are more out of shape than ever… Why are so many people reluctant to change? Because they stick to foods that are familiar, because they imagine illness won’t happen to them, and because the cruelty to animals and damage to the environment caused by livestock operations are out of sight and out of mind."
-- Dr. Neil Barnard, in the Winter ’03 "Good Medicine" the publication of Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine
Food news in the past month ranged from controversial to peculiar.
PETA, whose "terrorist turkey" ad we reported on last month, is not stopping there: the animal rights group has now announced plans to launch a boycott of Kentucky Fried Chicken, in hopes of pressuring KFC to improve the treatment of chickens it buys.
Another follow-up on a last month’s report involves the lawsuit against McDonald’s for their hard-selling of fattening food. It was dismissed by a judge whose ruling stated that the corporation does not hide what its main ingredients are, and that everyone knows that if you eat huge amounts of fattening foods you’ll gain weight. But he did suggest how the plaintiffs might proceed if they want to try again.
There also continues to be public attention on the problems of unhealthy food in schools. The NY Times did a front-page article about this, mentioning both the financial problems of schools that need corporate money, and the government practices that impede healthy yet tasty school meals.
On another front, the NY Times reported that
Washington is still trying to make Europe accept the bioengineered food crops that most Europeans are reluctant to eat. So are a growing number of Americans, as witness the correlation between the rise in gene-altered food here and the rise in preference for non-GMO organic food. Even a private research group, the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, has asked the FDA to hold off on granting a permit for genetically engineered fish until their environmental impacts can be studied. A recent scientific announcement of newly serious concerns about over-fishing only emphasizes the need for caution on this aspect of the food supply – and, arguably, the need to spread the word that people don’t really need to eat fish to live. Yet this idea will not be furthered by a recent study which found that men who ate fish several times a month had fewer strokes than those who didn’t – though it is believed to be omega-3 fatty acids in fish that give protection, and the study did not control for people who do get omega-3s from non-fish sources.
The milk controversy also continues, with a big NY Times Science section article on the need to drink milk for your bones. At least they did actually print a letter challenging that premise which was sent to them by Dr. Reed Mangels of the Vegetarian Resource Group.
While some food news is controversial, other items are just odd, such as the triumphant announcement by scientists that they had identified a genetic code which will allow them to tell the difference between expensive European truffles and cheap Chinese ones that are infiltrating the market (but both are vegetarian…).
Moving to the subject of good and bad foods, A Swedish study recently reported on a link between too much vitamin A and weakened bones. The solution is simple: instead of taking vitamin A as a vitamin (which can in any case be toxic in too-large doses), people should eat plenty of beta-carotene-containing food and then let their bodies make as much vitamin A out of it as they need and either excrete the extra or store it in its harmless beta-carotene form. And of course, beta-carotene is found in orange-colored plant foods such as carrots, red peppers, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, mango, strawberries, and so on, as well as dark green leafy vegetables (also plants).
Generally speaking, animal foods continue to cause a variety of health problems, while plant foods remain Good For You.
The transmissable spongiform brain diseases are still making news. A couple of new cases of mad cow disease were found in Japan, while here in Wisconsin, the number of deer brains tested after the recent hunting season and found positive for Chronic Wasting Disease (the deer form of the illness) has now been put at 55; 5 of these came from outside the areas known to harbor the infection.
Of course, wild game is not the major source of food-borne illness, though it does point out that most such problems come from animal foods. Things are so bad that even the Bush ad-ministration is now asking for a $42 million increase in next year’s budget for more meat, poultry, and egg inspectors and for more testing to stop contaminated meat from reaching the public. It’s about time: a recent report noted that subsidized school lunches alone have sickened nearly 50,000 children over the last 25 years, with1,500 hospitalizations and at least 1 death; the commonest culprit was salmonella.
Meanwhile, the recent "Good Medicine" reported on a study of healthy adults asked to follow a meat-heavy Atkins-style diet, and of the greatly increased calcium loss and load on
the kidneys that they experienced. Another study reported there found that children who ate smoked sausages grew up to have an in-creased risk of multiple sclerosis. And other recent studies found that a high-fat diet may encourage the spread of prostate cancer, and that there are additional indications that a meaty diet increases colon cancer risk.
It is of course still possible for plant foods to be bad: the February Prevention reminds us that trans-fatty acids, though plant-derived, are not good news, and readers were also cautioned that if they do eat healthy-fat-containing nuts, they should still moderate the amounts.
On the other hand, concerns about the safety of soy seem to have settled out into an acknowledgement that soy-derived isoflavones isolated into supplements and taken in huge amounts may indeed be bad, but that a couple of servings a day of soy foods can’t harm anyone (except possibly people diagnosed with breast cancer). At the same time, soy foods are being turned to as a safe alternative to hormone re-placement therapy for dealing with menopause symptoms, and have been found to help lower both blood pressure and bad LDL cholesterol, while increasing calcium retention in bones.
Bone density is also protected, according to the Framingham Osteoporosis Study, by eating plenty of vegetables, fruit, and cereals, while eating a lot of candy (vegetarian as it might be) was definitely bad news for bones. Make your cereals whole-grain, though: another Framing-ham study found that whole grains actually in-crease sensitivity to insulin, thus helping to protect against diabetes.
And once again, as Valentine’s Day nears, we are reminded that dark chocolate's antioxidents are (in moderation, of course) good for you.
My report last month on PETA’s "terrorist turkey" ad contained the clause, "PETA is at it again." This engendered a response from a reader who seemed distressed by what she felt was my flippancy or disapproval, as it seemed to her, of PETA’s activities.
On the one hand, I would like to apologize if my phrasing has caused any misunderstanding. I was not in fact intending in any way to belittle PETA; on the contrary, I was attempting to report on their shenanigans in a humorous fashion – which I felt to be right in tune with their conduct. Surely, I felt, no one can argue for an overseriousness in an ad which essentially spoofs our whole current national pre-occupation with terrorism. PETA, as far as I can see, deliberately chose to be flippant and "in our face" in order to get their point across, using nerve-touching humor to make their case, however serious their intent. How else report such behavior except with similar humor?
However, this brings up again that MARV contains people of many different mindsets. Some of us indeed become vegetarian primarily for reasons of compassion towards animals. It’s probably not possible to change one’s whole way of eating and one’s whole lifestyle unless one is indeed both serious and passion-ate about this. And it is surely true that those of us who chose vegetarianism out of concerns for our health or our planet’s environment, rather than out of concerns primarily for animals, should be sensitive to our animal-loving fellows.
But at the same time, those of us who became vegetarians for the animals should be equally sensitive to the fact that health is actually the biggest reason for choosing a plant-based diet, and that the animal-lovers among us should equally respect that health, the environment, and social justice are equally valid and respectable motives for our shared lifestyle.
Our local animal rights group is CUFA, with whom we share the aim of promoting vegetarianism. MARV is an umbrella for all sorts of vegetarians, and we must all remember that we are each unique, and that our mutual purpose is best fulfilled when we pull together and refuse to allow differences of motivation to interfere with that mutual goal.
THE VEGGIE TABLE
It is good news that it continues to get easier to be a vegetarian and still eat out. My proof of this statement is that over the several years during which my family has traveled to Puerto Rico in the winter, it has become noticeably easier for vegetarians to eat there.
This year, a computer search of vegetarian-friendly places on the island turned up several possibilities, up from none just a few years back. And besides these, we noticed two different eateries along the road from San Juan to the island’s west coast which displayed the offer of vegetarian food on their signage.
In San Juan itself, we had an excellent dinner at a place in the old town. Café Berlin is at 407 Plaza Colon in Old San Juan, and featured quite a variety of tasty and different vegetarian entrees, priced on the upper side of moderate. We would go back.